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Bounce back players for 2013

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Bounce back players for 2013

Post by GoAztecs on Wed Aug 14, 2013 7:37 pm

A comeback player can be bouncing back from injury, poor play or both. The Texas defense qualifies in every way. From the front to the back, the Longhorns’ D is loaded with rebound candidates.

There are so many, in fact, that the collective unit is our No. 1 choice to make a comeback in 2013. Others include a player who was discussed as a Heisman candidate entering 2012 and a couple of quarterbacks whose coaches think they pressed last year because of weaknesses around them.

1. Texas Longhorns’ defense

When I talked last week to Horns coach Mack Brown, he was certain that the health of end Jackson Jeffcoat and linebacker Jordan Hicks would make a big difference relative to a year ago. Things really seemed to unravel when Hicks injured his hip in Week 3 at Ole Miss. By the end of the year, the Texas defense allowed an average of a touchdown more each week, and its yards per play allowed increased by 1.3 yards from 2011 to 2012.

“Those guys are hungry, ready to be back and feeling good,” Brown said. “We’re all kind of that way.”

It carried over to even unexpected places. Corners Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs, expected to make leaps, were highly inconsistent. Brown and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who came under fire, touted Byndom and Diggs a year ago as All-Big 12 types, if not All-America candidates.

“We’ve got to be better,” Brown said, “and I believe we will be.”

They had better be. With Oklahoma sliding ever so slightly and question marks dotting the league’s wide footprint, the Big 12 has never been so winnable. The team with the most talent -- which Texas is, according to every coach I’ve spoken with this summer -- had better win it.

Forget about that whole Longhorns being “back” narrative. It’s face-saving mode in Austin, a city now in the college football shadow of College Station and, perhaps, Waco. These are strange times deep in the heart of Texas.

2. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson Tigers

I saw this week that Watkins is a 50-1 long shot to win the Heisman, according to Bovada’s updated odds. Man, what a difference in a year’s time.

Watkins’ pot-related suspension and banged-up frame allowed DeAndre Hopkins to become the featured receiver in offensive coordinator Chad Morris’ system. Watkins, who was just as dynamic on offense and special teams in 2011 as Heisman finalist Marqise Lee was in 2012, was essentially a role player. It's not that 57 catches and 700 yards makes for a terrible season; it’s just a matter of how high Watkins set the bar for himself.

When I talked with him in the spring, Morris was convinced that Watkins would bounce back as a junior. The setup has all the makings: a draft-eligible player who, by all accounts, is a good guy left humbled by a so-so season. Tajh Boyd’s return helps a bunch too.

My Heisman dark horses post comes later in the week and I like Watkins’ QB more than Watkins, but 50-1 is a big number for a player with Watkins’ skill set. That’s quite a Week 1 stage for the entire program, Watkins included, when the Tigers host Georgia.

3. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech Hokies

We wondered a year ago if Thomas could be college football’s biggest breakout star, a player capable of a meteoric rise to the Heisman ceremony and a possible first-round draft selection.

These days, Thomas hardly receives much attention outside his local market. That’s sort of a good and bad thing, but Virginia Tech’s staff has always told me how humble and low-key Thomas is. He probably prefers the relative anonymity while everyone is smitten with the ACC’s deep class of quarterbacks such as Boyd, Miami’s Stephen Morris and even FSU freshman Jameis Winston.

When I talked about Thomas with coach Frank Beamer a couple of weeks ago, he echoed what I had heard previously: Thomas tried to do everything during the 2012 season, with the offensive line and receivers struggling around him. Thomas completed just 51 percent of his passes, finishing with 16 picks to 18 touchdowns.

“There were some mistakes that shouldn’t happen, but he was doing the best he could,” Beamer said. “That was just the nature of our team, our offense.”

With that in mind, Beamer shook up his staff, bringing in Scot Loeffler to take over the stagnant offense. Those close to the team told me Loeffler immediately challenged Thomas in the spring, something that was a bit of a shock to Thomas. But he adjusted to his new OC, and there is supposedly a good rhythm entering the year.

“[Thomas] is a team guy,” Beamer said. “He’s the guy you want as your quarterback.”

How could I have gone this long without reminding you that Thomas is 6-foot-6 and 257 pounds? Yes, 2012 was a struggle, but he remains on the NFL’s radar.

4. Keith Price, QB, Washington Huskies

At 6-1, 202 pounds, Price is big but not built like Thomas. But the narrative -- and the coaching staff’s affection for its quarterback -- is similar to the one at Virginia Tech.

The Huskies’ offensive line was extremely young in 2012, which often left Price trying to force the action. He ended up completing 61 percent of his passes, with 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions for a .500-ish team. He was the West Coast version of Thomas, no doubt.

In evaluating where to go with the offense, and Price, coach Steve Sarkisian ripped a page out of, well, most everyone’s playbooks. Washington is incorporating the no-huddle tempo into its play calling. Sarkisian said that seemed to put a spark into Price in the spring.

“Which was good,” Sarkisian told me, “because we’ve got to get Keith’s swagger going.”

Where Sark is hopeful it helps Price is giving him license for freelance playmaking. I brought up Johnny Manziel as an example of that balance, the planned and the unplanned, and the coach didn’t flinch. He said he’s good friends with A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, so some influence is only natural. He said Sumlin sent him a stream of texts during Washington’s top moment in 2012, when it upset Stanford on a Thursday night.

“He was saying, ‘See, we can beat anybody,’” Sarkisian said of Sumlin’s texts. “He was really excited for us. It was fun to see that. I called him back on the way home.”

That was in late September, well before the Aggies hit their full stride and well before they upset No. 1 Bama on the road.

5. Henry Josey, RB, Missouri Tigers

When I visited last month with coach Gary Pinkel, I asked if we had forgotten how good Josey can be.

“When he’s feeling good, he is a really good player,” Pinkel said. “Very explosive.”

Josey rushed for 1,168 yards in 10 games as a sophomore, but then he suffered a knee injury that Pinkel described as “horrific” and “more of a car accident than an injury.” For all the publicity that Marcus Lattimore’s knee injury received, and it did look really bad, it was Josey’s left knee that required 18 months and three surgeries to finally repair and heal.

Pinkel said Josey was understandably tentative in the spring, but “as he scrimmaged, got hit some, you could see him getting more and more confident.”

Josey included, it should be a different fall altogether for the Mizzou offense. Pinkel said five of the team’s top 10 linemen suffered fairly serious injuries a year ago, in addition to quarterback James Franklin’s lingering shoulder issues.

“There are always injuries,” Pinkel said. “Every coach will tell you that. But what we went through was pretty extraordinary, something different than I’d seen in 22 years as a head coach.”

Honorable mentions: Casey Pachall (TCU QB), Ronald Powell (Florida DE), Blake Countess (Michigan CB), Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State CB), C.J. Brown (Maryland QB), Nebraska defense

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